Went to a Gophers game on Sunday afternoon with the lads from the Valli. The old crew from college. Wes the Filmmaker, the Crazy Uke, the Giant Swede. We met at the Valli – which isn’t the Valli, and hasn’t been the Valli for more years than it was the Valli, I suspect. It’s an “Irish Pub” upstairs and a hash house / full bar downstairs. We ate at the bar in the basement, which seemed right; downstairs was where we spent most of our college years. Upstairs was for late-night arguments about the Soviets over omelettes; downstairs was pinball, pool, endless cups of coffee and chained cigarettes. I wrote most of everything I published in college at the Valli, and it was amusing to be back. The bartender probably hadn’t been born when we started hanging out at the place. O those were the days, though; we probably added a few years to our entry into adulthood by hanging around that place, but I wouldn’t trade a day spent in that pit for a productive one on the Outside.

Standards have changed, though. The French Toast came without syrup. We had to ask. The toast came without jelly (the very mention of which prompted us to bray GWAPE JEHWWY, as Wandy called the substance. Wandy was Randy, a shambling idiot savant who wore the same clothes daily, pushed his filthy glasses up with his knuckles, never combed his hair, and was generally regarded as the viwwage idiot, right up to the day when he intewwupted a lecture given by Angela Davis and criticized her support for the Soviets) so we had to ask. The Giant Swede left most of his French Toast untouched, since it was undercooked and soaked with raw egg batter. Most of us got food poisoning from the Valli at some point; the eggs benedict were particularly effective in taking you out for three days of shuddering chunk-barking. Come for the pie, stay for the major organ failure.

We paid and walked to the game. Up to the top of the Barn, and I mean the top: six rows from the back. No seats; just benches. But the view was fine:

And the team was pathetic. No matter. For entertainment between the action there were cheerleaders, impossibly taut and perky, thrown around by impassive collegians; there was a dog-racing contest at half-time. I don’t know what it’s like in other cities,  but no one swore; no obscene chants or hurled invective. It was over soon enough, and we made our way out. Got separated from Wes, so we stood on a landing. Out of the descending crowd came a large red-headed man who looked at me and grinned and said his name “from high school!” and of course I recognized him right away. We shook hands and the crowd carried him down the stairs, the connection sundered almost as soon as it had been made. It’s another one of those moments that makes you marvel at the powers of the brain, and it makes you wonder if it’s always scanning everyone’s faces all the time, looking for matches, hungry for a match. He didn’t expect to see me; I didn’t expect to see him. But there were were, and ping! File retrieved and processed.

We went back to Dinkytown for coffee; stopped at an espresso joint that used to be Schaak Electronics, and had been the hardware store before that. Back when Dinkytown was all small merchants. Drug store, a Dayton’s branch, a florist’s, a bakery. Everything you needed. Everyone ranted about current events and movies for a while and then we went back to the lives we’d built since we left the Valli.

I can understand why people pick up and move away, because after a while the burden of remembering what was here before this and what was there before that becomes a bit much, and you feel like you’re always carrying around a load of invisible bricks on your back. And there’s not much you can build with them, except for a wall over which you cannot climb. I’d grouse that the pleasures of knowing how this used to be that are a sign of disengagement and early-onset fogeyism, but I’ve always enjoyed knowing those things, and never quite understood why it seems a rare interest. It makes it easier to roll with the changes if you know the changes have rolled everyone else, whether they knew it or not.

On the way home, this:

Could have been my time in Dinkytown, except for the skyline. Otherwise, ditto; cold day, lone student, heading over the tracks. Dinkytown was close to downtown, but it always seemed far away from this view. Getting from college to that place, the Emerald City, seemed an impossible task some days.


I made it eventually. Now my building’s up for sale.

Saturday: errands, as usual.  I drive into the parking lot of the Elderly Walgreens. The one near my house has a diverse clientele, but this one, close to a first-ring suburb, has a lot of wattled-mottled customers, and they always seem peeved and ornery. If I make it to that age, I’m sure I will be one of the old folks they call “spry” and “elfin,” with the sort of good cheer that will either make a clerk’s day or, more likely, make them wonder what deficiency in my life compels me to chat up the clerks with such brio. Anyway. It took a few minutes to get into the parking lot, because I was behind a Caddy whose owner moved so slowly I suspected she had put the car in neutral and was waiting for the rotation of the earth to deliver her to her parking space. I chastised myself for impatience, and reminded myself: at least she’s still out and about. That’s what keeps you engaged, don’t you know.

That, and pinching pennies so hard Lincoln’s very bones rattle and fart. I found myself behind the driver of the Caddy in line. She was small and wide and pink with white cotton-candy hair and eyes like black Bbs floating in a pool of blood-flecked tapioca.

"Put the milk in different bags," she commanded, her voice full of suspicion. "They never put the milk in separate bags. I ask them every time but they never remember."   The clerk, a stolid African, nodded and beeped up her purchases. She put her face six inches from the display that counted off the prices, and stopped him quick:

“It’s two bags for five dollars. Two bags for five dollars. You rang up $2.99. And I have a coupon for a dollar off. It says right over there, two bags for five dollars. Right there.” She pointed to an end cap a few feet away. Everyone in line turned around. Sure enough: Two for five dollars.”

A manager drifted by, and the clerk asked her: “These are two for five dollars?”

“They’re two for five dollars,” said the woman.

“They’re two for five dollars,” said the manager. “But only if you buy two.”

“I have two,” spat the old woman. “And I have a coupon for a dollar off. If I’m not going to get two for five dollars I’m not going to buy them.”

I was reasonably sure of three things: A) the woman was right, and B) the coupon did not cover the discounted price, and C) no one was going to challenge her on that.

The clerk rang them up again. The manager overrode the mistake in the price. The old woman paid with a twenty from a wallet thick with bills, then took her receipt and examined every line while the clerk rang me up.

“It says the Jell-O is eighty-nine cents,” she said. “The Jell-O is not eighty-nine cents. Here.” She held out the receipt.

The clerk said he would look at it when he was done ringing me up. The woman glared at me, Mr. Whippersnapper Jell-O Gouging Enabler.

When I left she was demanding someone go over to the Jell-O department and look it up because the Jell-O is not eighty-nine cents.

I went outside to my vehicle – heard my name, looked around – hello, it’s a colleague from the paper. We had a chat and I told her about the old lady for whom every commercial interaction is a cesspool of dishonesty and aggravation. Ha ha! We had a good laugh. I bid her goodbye, got in the Element, started to back out –

 - while I’d been telling the story the woman had left the store, got in her car, and was backing out at a breakneck 2 inches per hour.
I waited.

New match, right here. See you at buzz.mn!